Ten Lessons From The Leprosy Crisis That Preceded Ebola

The public outcry and fears about Ebola on American soil brought back heart-wrenching memories for Health Industry Marketing’s CMO Linda Carey. In 1988,  she had the “unprecedented opportunity” to visit with the elder leper residents on the lovely eastern peninsula of  Molokai, Hawaii. She remarked, “The  meeting with the lepers left me me awe-struck. They were very shy and some had rarely (if ever) seen anyone outside of their doctor or a few other residents of Molokai. These elder lepers were very disfigured and certainly ashamed to be seen. My heart wept for them. The Ten Lessons I offer here evolved through years of introspection and reflection. My visit to Molokai forced me to consider what my own level of compassion and fear would be in the face of an unprecedented contagious disease.”

She continues, “I believe we are warranted in our fears of the unknown, but should persevere to avoid the darkroom of poor choices against our fellow man. It is incumbent upon us to stare fear down and work together for solutions…no matter what. We must keep our sensibilities lest we create more chaos or become willing to accept any solution in spite of its potentially grave consequences.”

Here are  Ten Lessons Learned From a Visit With Lepers in Molokai:

l. Fear Knows No Bounds Within Humanity

Historically, the outbreak and spread of Leprosy was fraught with fear and humankind participated in callus decisions against suffering humanity. Hawaii’s King Kamehameha V created the “Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy” in 1866 and quarantined leprosy sufferers. As spouses buried one another, babies of lepers were horrifically removed from their mother’s arms. Individual lepers were banished to the colony and never expected to see their families again. Various reports state that there were approximately 800 lepers quarantined and ultimately the population reached 1600 in total residents of the colony on the eastern peninsula of Molokai. Today, we are seeing many Americans changing and shifting normal behaviors due to the fear of contracting Ebola.

2. Accurate Public Information Followed by Consistent Protocols By Medical Thought Leaders is Essential

During an outbreak of Leprosy there was a lot of misinformation about how it was caught, spread, etc. While 95% of people were apparently immune to Leprosy, this was an unknown in the beginning. Individual citizens are normally the “last ones to know” the “presumed” truth about most diseases or potential pandemics. The fact is that many of the USA Ebola experts such as the CDC have perhaps unwittingly incubated fear in the public due to inconsistencies in what they espouse as “experts” versus what they do. An example is in the following link. http://www.wfaa.com/story/news/health/2014/10/15/second-dallas-hospital-worker-diagnosed-ebola/17290677/

3. Mistrust Becomes Rampant

During the early days of Leprosy diagnosis, neighbors turned on neighbors while family members turned on one another. It now appears that misinformation and lack of  hands-on instruction in proper protocols with healthcare providers is promoting panic throughout the USA with nursing staff and patient-consumers.

4. Staying Calm is Mission Critical

When the stakes are high and pressure accelerates, most of us do not always make our best choices. Rash choices often lead to negative consequences.

5. Self-Preservation at All Costs Is Judged by Historical Accounts

The value of our individual lives is not higher than that of our neighbor next door, our friends, our community or people we do not even know. Lepers were callously removed from many islands in Hawaii and ostracized to the colony without consent or even a warning.

6. Shame Follows Isolation and Quarantine of Victims

Lepers were ashamed of who they were as human beings. Lepers who innocently contracted the disease were shunned by family members and their communities. There is evidence today that Ebola victims and their families experience the same emotions and discrimination in Africa.

7. There are Amazing People who are Willing to Sacrifice Their Lives to Help Mankind

I reference Father Damien, a Belgium priest who was deployed to the Leprosy colony in Molokai and tirelessly worked until his demise from the disease. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Father_Damien

The nursing staff at Texas Presbyterian who have taken care of the Ebola patients are heroes and she-roes of the highest order.

8. Fear Bias is Reverse Engineered such that Victims Return Discrimination

Elder lepers met at the Leprosy Colony rarely saw “Haloes”, otherwise known as “white men”, throughout their lives and had generated some legendary and amusing myths regarding them in their community. They had been ostracized and the result was that they created their own ideas without good data or actual experiences. Lesson #8 may be relevant to how we live together today in this world of globalization and interaction with many cultures.

9. The Language we Choose can make bad Matters Worse

Early on, Leprosy was considered both incurable and highly contagious. It was presumed that the disease spread by both direct contact with the afflicted person and indirect contact through items touched by a leper, such as clothes and bedding (not dissimilar to Ebola). People referred to lepers as “outcasts” and “unclean” only serving to ostracize, polarize and demoralize them further for the remainder of their terribly fated existence.

10. The Historical Facts of how Leprosy Created Panic Until the Cure Came Parallel our Current Ebola Situation in the USA

As U.S. citizens residing in a constitutionally limited representative Democratic Republic, may we remind ourselves to use “uncommon common” sense in dealing with our fears over Ebola. It is incumbent upon us to be discerning about the intersection of our freedom with government regulation and politics lest we unwittingly erode our independence to think, discern and act with informed consent and conscience. Government, healthcare institutions and private citizens must work collaboratively even in the face of a crisis for the highest and best outcomes. Neither the sequestering of  factual information on a disease nor media hype of misinformation is helpful to citizens.

Years ago, mistakes were made in dealing with Leprosy. A glimpse back into history of this disease and how it was “managed” or “mismanaged” may provide some illuminating clues to our current situation analysis with Ebola.

To learn more about Linda Carey and Health Industry Marketing visit: http://www.healthindustrymarketing.com.